The Dad I want to Be

"Wake up, you're the DaddyMan now!" It was my wife's voice on the morning after our daughter's birth. And with these words began the first day of the rest of my life. I was very excited, and already completely exhausted.

Like many men these days, I wanted to be a different kind of dad than the model of my father's generation. I didn't want to be just the breadwinner. I wanted to be a "hands on" dad, and be closer to my child than my dad knew how to be with me.

But how would I fare in this realm so long designated to women? Can dads bond with babies without the benefit of breasts? Would I try, but soon feel woefully inadequate compared to mom. Would I retreat to other things I knew I could do well, ike paid work? Would there be any support for me? Or would I be the only man at every play group?

And what of all the other things I'd spent my youth dreaming I might like to do with my life? As a boy I had been very encouraged to strive for ambitious career goals. No one ever said I would command great respect by just earning a passable income and spending a lot of time fathering. So my head was packed with a very full slate: getting a doctorate, creating a counseling practice full of workshops and topical support groups, building a house, writing a book, recording a album, etc. I always figured I'd slip having a child in there somewhere. But I never thought about exactly where.

Then suddenly, with my daughter Molly's birth, there was no time for anything but parenting. So the onset of fatherhood meant, for me, the need to grieve all the things I could no longer find time for. I had to unpack my head of dreams and goals that kept pulling me away from time on the floor, playing with Molly. Lying with her at nap time, impatiently waiting for sleep to take her, I would sigh, a tear rolling down into my ear. My break was almost here, but all I would really have time for is the dishes and the floor. Doing this grieving has been my biggest challenge as a father

And what is the payoff? Fatherhood has taught me many things. Some of them are answers to my early questions, such as: men are natural nurturers of children, the father-child relationship can be as rich and deep as any human pairing, no other work is more important than giving loving attention to a child. But the main thing fatherhood is teaching me is who my daughter is. "Who are you today, Molly?" There is no question that intrigues me more. In it lies all the complexity and nuance of human intelligence and personality. And Molly's unfolding is my unique privilege to witness. Her answer changes every day. And unless I'm there, I'll never know.

© 2007, Tim Hartnett

Other Father Issues, Books

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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